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Some account of the

and of the rise and progress of the
commercial Navy of Great Britain. 1834

SOURCE: The Saturday Magazine, No. 117. Supplement, April, 1834


And Warehousing Establishments of the Port of London, in point of capacity and convenience, are unequalled. Notwithstanding the vast and increasing commerce of the metropolis, however, it was not until towards the end of the last century, that the idea of forming wet-docks seems to have been seriously entertained. This is the more remarkable, as a wet-dock had been formed at the then insignificant port of Liverpool, so early as the year 1708. In 1793, the West India Docks were first projected, and in the following year, at a general meeting of the merchants and ship-owners of London, the construction of wet-docks was finally resolved upon. But such was the opposition the project experienced from the corporation of London, and private interests, that it was not until 1798, that an Act of Parliament was obtained. Previously to that period, the losses sustained in consequence of the inadequate accommodation, and unprotected state of the port, were exceedingly serious. At certain seasons, the river was absolutely blocked up with vessels, most of which had to discharge their cargoes into lighters; and the annual loss sustained from robberies alone, was computed to amount to half a million sterling. The marine depredators, who were as numerous as they were daring, were divided into various classes, as "river-pirates, "light and heavy-horsemen," "mud-larks," "copemen," "scuffle-hunters," &c. The river or night pirates seem to have conducted their operations with the most reckless daring. They have been frequently known to weigh a ships anchor, hoist it with the cable into a boat, and when discovered, to hail the captain, tell him of his loss, coolly bid him good night, and row away. They also cut small craft and lighters adrift, following them till they ran ashore, when they generally succeeded in carrying off the whole of the freight. Many of the "light-horsemen" regularly made five-guineas a night, and an apprentice to what was called a "game-waterman," is said to have been known to keep a country-house and a saddle-horse! In these days of security and improvement, it appears quite incredible that such a state of things should have been submitted to so long. In 1797, a strong check was put to the proceedings of these marauders, by the establishment of a system of marine police, which was so successful, that during the first year, the saving to the West India merchants alone was computed to amount to 100,000l.; and no less than 2200 culprits were convicted of misdemeanours on the river during the same period.

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